Youth urged to be innovative, start businesses

As unemployment figures continue to paint a bleak picture, the Department of Science and Technology is encouraging young people who are interested in innovation and entrepreneurship to start their own businesses.

The department has begun funding innovations by youth inventors in the hope to incubate their ideas, turning them into commercial business models, through the Grassroots Innovation programme, hosted by the CSIR and the department’s Technology Localisation Implementation Unit (TLIU).  

Since it was established two years ago, more than 200 students from universities of technology have completed internships, with more than 65% being permanently absorbed into the sponsoring companies.

Speaking recently at the Science, Technology Innovation Youth Indaba at the CSIR in Pretoria, Minister Naledi Pandor pointed to statistics on unemployment in South Africa, especially youth unemployment saying there is an urgent need for South Africa to focus on creating opportunities for young people to be innovative.

The minister said the decline in economic growth and reduced investment in manufacturing and industrial sectors also serve as an urgent call to action.

“The future for our country and the African continent depends on increased support for and development of talented scientists and entrepreneurs who can take up the opportunity to create new technologies and innovative solutions for our pressing problems.

“One of the things we must do is to get many more young people to study and pass Mathematics and Science subjects,” the minister said.

Minister Pandor said there's much to be proud of in the South African science and innovation space.

“We have some of the best conditions for solar energy in the world, and sufficient wind-energy potential to respond to our energy needs,” the minister said.

The Department of Science and Technology has created 34 new science centres in the past decade and is set to spend most of its R23.7 billion budget over the medium term to investment in producing new knowledge, developing human capital, and building infrastructure for research and innovation.

The bulk of the funds (R3.9bn) will be transferred to the Council for Industrial and Scientific Research (CSIR) and the National Research Foundation (NRF), which foster, promote and support industrial and scientific research and technology innovation.

The CSIR places major focus on their Grassroots Innovation Programme by the department’s Technology Localisation Implementation Unit (TLIU) which seeks to unearth rural innovators who will then be incubated in to programmes to develop their innovation into a business.

At the Youth in Science, Technology and Innovation Indaba, young people who benefited from the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), Karabo Tsatsi, Portia Mavhungu and Darushna Chellan displayed their innovations.

Tsatsi is a Director of QI Energy, a start-up company that is developing a Mobile Radiation Monitor (MRM).  The instrument would be used to improve radiation safety within and around nuclear facilities by detecting leakages of radiation material, thus reduce human exposure to such hazardous material.

“The main function of the final product is to enable the operator to enter a potentially hazardous environment with a remotely controlled platform, while assessing the situation with a camera and measuring important data remotely. Radiation is likely to cause diseases such as cancer, should it leak from a nuclear power station to the environment,” explained Tsatsi.

He cited the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan six years ago when an accident caused large amounts of radioactive material to leak into the atmosphere forcing 160 000 people to flee their homes.

The company is planning to conquer the energy industry with innovative solutions both in South Africa and globally. 

The other innovative displays at the Indaba was PRD Logical Solutions, headed by Portia Mavhungu and Darushna Chellan.

The two have developed a toilet seat they have named Para Tube which allows a wheelchair to function as a toilet.

The Para Tube is intended to assist many wheelchair users by eliminating difficulty of movement from the wheelchair to the toilet seat.

The device is retrofitted onto a wheelchair and opens from beneath by means of a lever whenever a person using it needs to relieve themselves. A disposable sanitary bag with nappy material catches all the soil and is replaced.

The drive behind the innovation was due to a real life experience of one of the company directors, Portia Mavhungu. She broke her pelvis and had to use a wheelchair - and movement to the toilet during the seven months was very difficult for her.

“During my stay in hospital, I saw a lot of people in wheelchairs suffering. They were not able to go to the bathroom on their own, going to the bathroom was difficult for us.

“Am hoping that with this innovation, life will be much easier for wheelchair-bound people,” she said.

PRD Logical Solutions however admits that the device has to be improved further to benefit also people who lost use of all their limbs. They hope to have add more features to the device such as electronic control buttons after which they look into commercialising the Para Tube.

The innovation was so highly praised it was entered into the Gauteng Accelerator Programme (Gap) Awards Medical section for 2014 at The Innovation Hub in Pretoria.

Although she did not win her category, Mavhungu was invited to enter her innovation into the Innovation Prize for Africa Awards in 2015 held in the Kingdom of Morocco.

Over 300 young youth attended the first Youth in Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Indaba.

The event attracted young scientists, entrepreneurs, captains of industry, youth from higher education and policy makers. The indaba also provides an opportunity for ordinary innovators to exhibit their technological inventions. – SAnews.gov.za